Dancing with the Dragons: Dealing with Rejection and Self-Doubt
by Pam Newton
July 23, 2021
One of the hardest things to confront in the performing world is the inner dragon of self-doubt.
Theater life sometimes feels as if it is all about surviving criticism and potential rejection, no matter how good you have become. The inner dragon says, “You are ugly. You are fat, uncoordinated, and untalented. Your next piece is bound to fall flat.” Corrections in class, competition for approval or work, and real life critic’s words often hurt. The process of studying, auditioning, developing, putting yourself out there, and facing unavoidable risks, along with personal insecurities, can feel overwhelming.
I have seen how these same feelings haunt all of us when we risk doing something in public, professional or not. The inner artist is deep in all people, a part of being human. We are all “artistic individuals”.
And, artistic individuals have unique strengths. This part can often convert self -doubt and fear into creative force. We tend to be passionate about what we do and to be comfortable with going outside of conventional problem-solving approaches. We can commit ourselves wholeheartedly to projects that capture our interest. Heightened sensory awareness and visual acuity allow for a clearer perception of what is stimulating or important, what makes life meaningful, what makes a given piece polished or moving. We may have been following a discipline for years, so that we know how to go on against all odds. We can work through fatigue, criticism, and boredom. After all, the deepest pleasure is earned after mastering something long worked for and by earning genuine praise from people whose opinions we respect.
How to interact with the practical realities of choreographing or performing or just trying a new creative activity while staying connected to a sense of personal worth is an ongoing exploration. As you become more aware of problem areas, creative capacities often deepen and expand. Awareness stimulates growth. However, if you find yourself feeling especially vulnerable, here are some things that can help:
1.) Think it through. Are you catastrophizing about something that is just part of the deal, a “failure” that is teaching you aspects that you have needed to learn? Were you one of forty auditioning for a part? What could use more work in your choreography? (Substitute your situation as needed.)
2.) Remember that making mistakes is a major part of learning a craft and that truly creative people are life-long learners.
3.) Watch other performers, speakers, teachers. Ask yourself, “Do I enjoy this person because of a flawless body or perfect performance, or am I drawn in by the commitment and power I see in front of me?”
4.) Surround yourself with positive people who will support you in times of self-doubt and who will give you honest feedback.
5.) Keep a journal to record dreams, feelings, and drawings that honor your inner process and new possibilities.
6.) Continue to work on your preferred discipline. Set times for improv, warm-ups, reading, and workshops. These all add up and create a stable structure for experimentation. Repetition improves your skill level over time.
7.) Get a video of yourself performing something well. Watch a segment of yourself and feel exactly how you move, breathe, hold yourself, etc.
8.) Use visualization to enhance your performance. See yourself performing as you want to with as much detail as you can imagine.
9.) Learn and use relaxation techniques.
10.) Acquaint yourself with the phrases, tones, and actions you repeat in your bodymind. If you continue to put yourself down internally, rewrite the messages in your journal or by your movement language. For instance, move as if you are centered, beautiful, and expert. Record this on an audio device, videotape, or kinesthetically.
11.) Continue to tell yourself what you like about yourself. The unconscious bodymind responds to positive feedback even when parts of you may think you are pretending or bragging. Repeating “I am worthy “ ten times improves brain chemistry and the immune system’s defenses.
12.) Remember that body and mind are one. Breathe deeply whenever possible to move into the present and enjoy being alive and in your body. Remember that you need all parts of yourself, even the disowned ones, to become a more potent performer.
The suggestions that I have mentioned here are all activities and techniques that you can do for yourself. You need to choose which might be helpful and to give yourself adequate time and space to focus. Obviously, there are some deep-seated problems that can be helped by psychotherapy, but much of dealing with rejection and self-doubt is about shifting your attitude, feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
Practice makes you stronger, be it vocal warm-ups, dance technique classes, improvisational exercises, or useful mind games. Practicing self-affirmation and routine reality checks can be of great help in dancing with these slithering dragons. Staying in touch with your intuitive self, your own voice, and your dreams can build a new sense of stability.
Dancing with dragons needs fortitude and imagination. My purple dragon of rejection and self-doubt has become a more flexible dancing partner for me with time. That powerful energy blasts away at my ego but also warms me up on some winter days. When I remember that it’s OK to be ordinary and flawed in the pursuit of ecstasy, many things fall into place. Then I relax and even balance better; energy flows.